148: Old Tech May Be Our Future – Zinc Batteries

Matt and Sean talk about zinc batteries and why old tech doesn’t always stay old. 

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, “137 Year Old Battery Tech May Be The Future of Energy Storage”: https://youtu.be/2wsSRq-bEm0?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi4dFnLD9622FK77atWtQVv7

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Hey everybody on today’s episode of Still To Be Determined. We’re gonna be talking about how to tell when an old idea might be the way forward. As usual, I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I read some sci-fi, I read some stuff for kids and I’m just generally curious about tech and how it impacts our lives.

And luckily for me, my brother Matt, is that Matt of undecided with Matt Ferrell. You of course know his channel. That’s what brought you here. So how you doing Matt? I’m

doing good. And you’re a faceless Sean

Farrell . That’s right. I’m gonna tell a couple of stories today. There’s gonna be two stories. One is about how technology is remark.

Now it can really change our lives for the better that that story goes like. I’m currently working, uh, on recording this podcast entirely from my phone. We are on a Zoom call and I’m recording my audio simply into my iPhone, which is sitting on a table and I am leaning over it. I’m talking directly at the phone, and it appears to be working so far.

So if you’re hearing this, We’re watching this on YouTube and you’re seeing some sort of superimposed frozen image of me. You know, the technology is still pretty remarkable that I’m able to do all this via my phone. Now, let me tell you a story about how technology can fail us in remarkable and spectacular ways.

I won’t name who my internet service provider is, spectrum . But for the past three or four weeks, my internet has been spotty at best and more recently, just this past weekend. It has spent more time down than it has up. It is remarkably frustrating, and so Matt and I have rescheduled this recording at least five times that I can recall.

Yeah, because I keep going back to ’em and saying like, they just extended the outage. We’re still in an outage. Help. I don’t know what to do. Help. And so finally we settled on, well, what if we tried to do a Zoom call? So here we are. So my apologies to our listeners or viewers, if you are hearing any kind of degradation in my voice, if it’s not coming through very clearly.

We appreciate your patience and putting up with it. And if you suddenly hear me cut out and I never return, it’s because I’ve finally had enough. Run down the street to find the nearest spectrum office to slap some people silly. So , having said all of that, so before we get into today’s discussion, which is gonna be about Matt’s most recent episode, which is about an old battery tech that may be the future of energy, energy storage.

That’s his episode from December 13th. I wanted to share some feedback from viewers and listeners on our previous episode. This is a comment from. Our last episode, which was about the future of math channel and effectively the future of this channel. And Matt and I were talking about ways that the channels might expand its scope, and there were comments like this from Michael Harvey who shared his thoughts.

I would love to see more on the medical front. AI in medicine. And then there was this from Dan eLearn who wrote Keep Up the Good Work. I’ve been interested in topics you’ve covered that were off my radar. Can’t wait to discover more in 2023. And then there was this little nugget from Make $750 per day failure is the condiment that gives successes, flavor, quote, Truman Capote.

Clearly that last one is spam. So. But it’s still nice, but it’s still nice to know. There was also this one from Bishop Knight who wrote, I would love to get some videos on biotech or AI advances like you are discussing today, even other tech sectors. I would especially love to see some videos about how these different tech advancements affect one another.

Sometimes you touch on how new tech might play out or affect some other thing, but it’s at the end and as a snippet that’s part of the wrap up. I find these, what about very fascinating how one tech might be used with something totally different in a new way that no one planned would be revolutionary.

I think that would be very interesting. So I think that all of that is terrific feedback. Thank you so much everybody for weighing in and for watching a video that was basically, It was just basically speculate and it’s good for us to have that kind of conversation, I think with all of you listeners and viewers, to get a sense of where you’re hoping the channel might go.

We would like to encourage you once again on this episode. Drop into the comments, leave some comments about where you think, uh, new tech advances and what kinds of technology you’d like to see more of. Or even if it’s just to say you, you like the direction of the channel so far, let us know. Uh, we appreciate the comments.

We appreciate the feedback.

Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s not an understatement to say that I. The direction of the channel is coming from a lot of you guys. So it’s like, yeah. The viewer feedback is one of the things that drives the channel. So I love hearing feedback, like

that’s great. Absolutely. That’s, it’s really remarkable, the, the, the kinds of not only comments that provide us with that kind of feedback, but the expertise in our.

listeners is always remarkable to see. And that’s on display with his most recent episode, which is about zinc batteries, which I love the fact that this was patented back in the 18 hundreds. This is, yes. Am I right about that late? Was it the 20th century or the,

it’s 137 years

old . Right. So. I guess my big comment right out of the gate on that was in the vein of why did it take so long for this technology to find a place or had it been utilized in some other ways in the past that we just aren’t paying attention to right now?


it’s been utilized, but there’s like every technology, there’s downsides to it, there’s challenges to it, and. W part of the reason that this is kind of getting traction now is there’s new techniques that have helped to overcome some of those, those constraints that the, the technology has had before.

So it’s making it even better than it already was. Um, so like this is, this is, uh, a better technology that’s like taught in material science and engineering classes and universities all around the world. It’s very well. , but it’s, it’s, it’s how these companies are trying to evolve it into something new and trying to make up for those downsides.

That’s kind of, I think that’s the main thing of the reason why now it feels like this might be the time where, Zinc battery has a chance to kind of like stand up and kind of like get people to take notice and based

on your video, the, the various use scenarios are fairly straightforward, large scale static.

Not, this is not us putting this into a phone. This is Nadia. Even us trying to put it into a vehicle. Nope. This is us saying city scale or neighborhood scale. Put this thing together and, and use it that way. I also really like the fact that it’s a little bit, it sounded a little bit like a rector set or a Lego set.

The way you described it as if you want more power, you put on more stacks. If you want more energy storage, you add more liquid. Yep. It. Seems to fit various scales in that way from maybe even something as focused as like, I kept thinking about like a hospital having, having one of these dedicated to a hospital, you would need maybe long-term storage, but not as much energy output.

So you might have the large liquid structure, but a smaller level of stack. and then for something that might be backup for short term, but large scale energy use, you’d have the opposite. So it really seems to be a, you can manage this whichever direction you need to for your use, as opposed to it being one size trying to fit all.

Yeah, it’s,

it’s, Not somebody, the water’s here. Water’s here, but it’s kinda like the hydrogen story too. It’s like you have a fuel cell that’s actually generating the electricity, and then you have the storage tanks of the hydrogen itself. And it’s the same thing here. It’s like you have the storage tank of the zinc bromine solution.

and then you have the stack that’s actually the one that’s converting and creating the electricity. Uh, you can scale it any way you want, so you need more power, bigger stack, more storage, bigger tanks. So it allows you to really configure things where a typical battery doesn’t work that way. It’s more of a linear thing of you need more power, you add more batteries, you need more storage, you add more batteries.

In either case, you’re making a larger and larger pack, and so it doesn’t scale as well as something like. Where you could scale one portion of it up for your, whatever your needs are, and that, that’s the reason it’s a perfect solution for something like stationary energy storage.

Where do you think this fits in with all the various battery storage technologies that you talked about before in a, in a, I’m trying to make it as much apples to apples as possible.

on the, on the scale of this is ready to walk out the door right now and be one of the solutions that a company or a a community, maybe even a city or a state might start using mm-hmm. to hold reserve power from solar plants or. Wind, if that’s a 10 on the scale and a one is, this is just barely coming out of the lab, where do you think this technology stands?

This is like a nine or

a 10. This is like, in some cases this stuff is already being used. Um, like, uh, the zinc batteries from, uh, red in a. , they’ve been making these for several years. These exist. They can, you can buy them today. So it’s like this stuff is. 10 years down the road. This is, in some cases it’s available now, so it’s, it’s definitely a tent.

You mentioned Australia, so that reminds me of this comment I wanted to share from Dave Occ who wrote, I think this one’s decided here, Matt as a half. Ozzy, I’m stoked to see this coming out of Oz. It makes me so happy. God, I hope they start pumping these out as fast as humanly possible. Even it’s, even if it’s an evolving product.

Use them for fixed location storage, exclusively. Standardize the installation and access mechanisms. Get it into place and practical sense. Make sure the end client is aware. It’s a version 1.0. And will evolve slash improve here in the United Kingdom, we’re running into grid problems, not just generation.

And I have read that we may not be able to carry and deliver the power requirements for wider scale adoption. EVs mandated by the soon to change regulations. We really need distributed grid storage and rather badly, his comment is a bit longer than that. It goes on from there. I’m not gonna read the entire thing, but it’s very, very thoughtful and it really puts into perspective how, and you know, you and I have talked about this before, Matt, not every community is dealing with the same issue.

Mm-hmm. , this is, we constantly are hitting the bell. Not the same tool for every job, but you can also look at it in the opposite direction. Not every job is the same across the board. There are various communities like we’ve been seeing. In your video, you talking about Australia’s brush fires? Mm-hmm.

we’re a big mover in this kind of storage because it was having an impact on their energy to generation and their ability to deliver GE energy safely and consistently in Australia. In the United Kingdom, it’s a different problem. It’s, yep, completely. It’s a very different problem and the energy needs in the uk not only does our comments are point out, the electric vehicle issue is going to create a bigger draw on the grid, the United Kingdom.

I’ve seen now over a period of three or four years now, through something as simple as YouTube. I’m seeing people in the United Kingdom complaining about how hot it is during the summer. Mm-hmm. , their summers and climate change are reaching temperatures that they are not accustomed to. They’re gonna start seeing more air conditioner usage.

They haven’t historically had to rely on that during the. That is gonna have an impact. So something as simple as it’s getting hotter and you wanna run a fan or you wanna run an ac, it’s gonna impact the grid in monumental ways. Yep. And massive storage needs on that front are gonna be needed.

Yeah, it’s, it’s you, every region has a different need.

Like in Canada, they’re pretty much a hundred percent hydropower, so it’s like that’s not the case for the Southwest us. It’s like, it’s. Depends on where you are, what your energy generation sources are, what your needs are. It’s gonna determine what kind of energy storage technology makes the most sense for you in that area.

And I’m a big fan of microgrids. Uh, the more microgrids the better. So you’re talking about like hotels that can self sustain themselves, homes, apartment buildings. The more that you can take that reliance off the grid for something like the, , that could be a really good solution for them because it’s like the more that you can reduce that, you need a giant power plant to supply an entire region and you can start to break that up, it starts to remove that concern about not being able to supply enough electricity and the grid not being able to handle the amount of electricity something like an EV is gonna take.

So it’s, there are ways to solve the problem. It’s not that it’s a easy engineering problem, it’s, but it’s solvable. It’s just you have to look at the entire everything that’s available to you and on that. This kind of semi off topic, but again, going back to hydrogen, which is often sold as our hydrogen future is gonna solve all of our problems and we can have transportation and we can do all this stuff.

Some of the stuff that’s like from the UK specifically that’s on the table right now is, uh, switching over their boilers to hydrogen. For in the UK for heat and Right. If you look into it, that makes no sense. Stop doing that . Yeah. It’s like I am not a fanboy of hydrogen, but there are aspects of hydrogen I think are really promising and exciting to keep it, keep tabs on, but it’s not a one size fits all solution.

And I, yeah, I think it’s a stupid idea to go hydrogen for heating homes, but it’s good for other things potentially. And so for this is the same thing. This. Batteries and these, these flow batteries are gonna make a really good big dent cuz they’re available today. They can be used today and start to be scaled up and make a huge difference in how we store our electricity.

It, but it depends on your use case.

I also wanted to visit this topic on this battery, uh, technology. The factories that would be required to create. It’s really an interesting aspect that it would be so much cheaper to just convert existing battery factories over to Crete. This type of battery, this comment from La Wat, who wrote Gelian?

Or is it Gelian? It’s gel ion. Gelian Gelian. He writes Gelian designing the one battery that it uses. The vast majority of existing lead acid battery manufacturing steps was a stroke of genius. Far, far too many potentially revolutionary battery technologies. Never make it out of a lab because they fail to make the jump to mass production.

But I bet this one doesn’t meet the same fate. The high functional temperature range and non flammability are great too. It means I could theoretically, theoretically put one in my uninsulated garage and not care that the garage becomes an oven in the summer. And a freezer in the winter, the thing would really still work safely.

Regardless. It’s safety and ease of manufacturing. Seems like two gigantic pluses on this technology. Yeah, it’s,

it’s the reusing infrastructure wherever you can. Reduces that the, not just the cost, but the difficulty in scaling it out and getting it out there. Yeah, so it’s like, it’s, it’s a, it’s a win-win.

It’s, it’s part of the reason I was saying hydrogen for heating homes is a stupid idea. Infrastructure doesn’t exist to get the hydrogen into people’s homes, and you can’t just reuse existing pipelines because the pipelines aren’t. Capable of handling hydrogen cuz it’s a small atom that will escape and leak and corrode pipes.

It’s like you can’t just flip over, which means you’re having to redo all of your infrastructure. It’s a huge cost, a huge burden. There are solutions like this where it’s like, oh, let’s reuse this lead acid battery factory and we don’t have to build a whole new factory, and we can scale it up quickly and it’s safe.

And so it’s like there’s all these pros to doing it the way that they’re doing it, which is very clever. It’s a, it’s, it shows clever engineering and there’s a, a real like, kind of nice ingenuity to how they’ve approached this problem.

It’s, it’s obvious from all the details that you shared, and it was a very, uh, all-encompassing video.

I. Get your thoughts briefly on this, and I don’t know that you actually know this information. in talking about repurposing factories and in talking about which countries are wealthy in the technology and the, the, the types of materials that go into various batteries. If this was to scale up and become a competitor in various markets with lithium, What countries are most directly impacted by that kind of competition?

I know as a source of lithium, China would be impacted, but mm-hmm . Is China also a major producer of the batteries themselves or are there other countries that are also doing battery? Production that would be impacted by a new competitor? Or are there countries that would benefit from this being a new player in the market?

I don’t have all the facts,

but here are some of the facts. China is a massive player in lithium and, and vanadium. So China’s making, uh, vanadium, redox flow batteries, which is a similar technology, just a different chemistry. They’re one of the major suppliers of an atium and they’re also the biggest supplier for lithium and all that kinda stuff.

So, , they have the most to lose at competing technologies like this. And there’s a reason Australia is leaning heavily into zinc because they are one of the larger zinc suppliers of the world, . So there’s a reason why they’re leaning into that. So they have a lot to gain by going down this path because it’s a supply chain that they already have a really good handle on and can really expand.

So, It, it, this is something we’re gonna see more and more of, of countries leaning into technologies because they have a supply chain that they can lean into for it. The United States is, we’re trying to build that up for ourselves, but you’re gonna start to see this happen around the world. Like Brazil is gonna be doing one thing where Australia’s gonna be doing a different thing and the EU is gonna be doing something completely separate because it’s, they’re gonna be leaning to what supplies they have easy access to locally


Yeah. All of it is very interesting as we see, and again, the title of your video gets right to the point. This isn’t even new tech, this is just the revisiting of an existing, uh, knowledge base, and it’s really impressive that. You have two companies bringing this to market at a time when it’s never been more clear that this kind of storage need is necessary and growing.

And so I’m really, really interested in, in revisiting this and I’m. Especially interested in revisiting this from the perspective of several of your commenters who said, at this point on your channel, you have visited so many battery technologies, . Yes. It would be worth doing a revisit of some of these battery technologies, and especially revisiting them in comparison to one another.

Maybe like a one video roundup of where are all these texts right now, and how do they stack up against one another? It’s because you and I talk about these things and I’ll be. There are times where we’re in the middle of a conversation and I’m thinking, did we talk about this six months ago? I don’t remember, but it would be worth revisiting.

I’m glad you brought that up because it, that, that comment, that thread of comments I’ve, I saw pop up, we took note talking about how like the commenters really helped to steer the ship for the channel. It’s on our roadmap. I just had a meeting call with my team this morning. We were discussing this exact thing and we already had on our, our roadmap for early next year a video about kind of like the, the roadmap of like, what’s happening with battery technology in 2023, like what’s out there.

And so it’s kind of evolving into something just like this, like we are planning to take a look at. , all these different things we’ve talked about over the past year and kind of like putting them at home one place and discussing and comparing them to each other and we’re, we’re planning on doing just that, so

stay tune.

Yeah. Stay tuned. Indeed. Yeah. So as Matt and I have just said, your comments really do help drive the show, so thank you so much for those. Please drop into the comments right now. Leave a thought about this episode or revisit the comments that were talked about in this episode. Talk about the battery tech itself.

We’d appreciate your feedback. If you’d like to support the show, don’t forget. You can go review us on Apple, Google, Spotify, wherever it was. You found this, including YouTube. And don’t forget to subscribe while while you’re there and on YouTube, if you’re seeing this and you’re seeing my not smiling face.

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